Learning Spanish in Sucre

One of the first things you learn when researching Bolivia is that it’s the cheapest place in South America to learn Spanish. With private lessons costing about $6USD per person, per hour, its hard to disagree.

I had tried to learn Spanish with Duolingo and an audiobook Jonny bought. I will confess, I was less enthusiastic than Jonny when it came to self-learning and so I hadn’t developed my language skills much. I was very excited to take lessons though, and we signed up with the Sucre Spanish school and committed to four days of four-hour private lessons. We decided to learn together, to save a bit of money and so we could practise and do our homework together. After the first couple of lessons went well, we extended our learning a few times and ended up doing 32 hours of Spanish over a couple of weeks.

Whilst we were studying, we stayed in a spacious hostel run by a Swiss couple. We had a huge room that was cleaned every couple of days and, aside from terrible wifi, proved to be a pleasant base for the two weeks we eventually spent there.

Sucre itself made for a decent home. It’s the constitutional capital of Bolivia so there’s lots of history and the town is home to a minerals museum that has the most awesome model exhibitions I’ve ever seen. Sucre is also known as the White Town because there are loads of colonial buildings still standing that are painted white, and they are beautiful. The main square also feels very safe and we found enough to entertain us during our stay.

Sucre wasn’t without incident though – there was the time Jonny and I got food poisoning when we ate at Joy Ride Cafe and the time I found a bug in my sandwich at a cafe. It was also home to the second-most scary moment of the trip, which involved a homeless man who smacked Jonny with his crutch and tried to chase us down one of the busiest main roads full of other pedestrians. It sounds silly now, but it absolutely terrified me. This guy, who we did nothing to except walk past, suddenly went for Jonny. It came from nowhere, made absolutely no sense and put me off walking home that way for days. When we finally plucked up the courage to walk down that street a week later, the guy was stood on the same spot and when he saw us, he tried to cross the road to have another go! Thankfully a car passed to separate us from him and we sped off. We didn’t walk down that street again.

Our Spanish lessons were very useful and a really valuable investment. In a short space of time we learnt one present, past and future tense and the grammar lessons helped me understand how to form sentences and get to grips with the vastly different accents on the continent. We left feeling very confident, as I professed to practice every day (I didn’t). I suddenly went from feeling panicked when anyone spoke to being able to have a basic conversation and knowing how to get – and understand – the information we needed. It was so helpful that we found ourselves having conversations entirely in Spanish with tour agents who would try to sell their excursions, or able to understand any delays or travel issues. We even managed to complain and refuse to pay for a frozen pudding once, which was lightyears ahead of what I could do with Duolingo.

Sucre is worth a visit without the language lessons – it has a few interesting museums, some decent restaurants and is interesting enough to sustain a short visit. If you’re by the Plaza de Armas at the right time, you may even be escorted over the crossing by a zebra! It’s also just a night bus from La Paz, our next stop and a place that we both found to be very overrated…